The audacity of Rishabh Pant alone has set up this Test – the third and deciding one between South Africa and India at Newlands, Cape Town – into a delectable contest. The hosts have eight wickets in hand and need another 111 runs to win; the ball is transitioning from new to old, and the bowlers are very much capable of handling both.
SCORECARD | AS IT HAPPENED
The team that manages to reduce the margins of error more successfully will take the match and the series. At 101-2 though, South Africa are slightly ahead, a good deal of luck, and relative easing of the track coming to their aid.
India scored 198 runs in the second innings, 28 of which came through extras and 100 off Pant’s bat. The rest of the batting order put together the remaining 70 runs. It should be another stark reminder for coach Rahul Dravid and the national selectors to take appropriate calls in the near future.
To be fair to India’s bench-strength, it’s been a very warm one for quite some time now.
Coming back to the game, Pant’s unbeaten 100 – laced with six boundaries and four sixes – was partly aided by Virat Kohli‘s very patient 143-ball 29 too. The runs may not have been much, but Kohli stuck around long enough, after Pant had just arrived, to ensure the latter wasn’t left alone facing Rabada, Olivier and Jansen.
On the eve of this game, Kohli had told media that “Pant had been spoken to”, and the statement was an after-effect of that rash stroke the wicketkeeper-batsman had played at the Wanderers, off Rabada, only to get caught behind for a duck. Kohli spoke, but it’s unclear if Pant heard, because little of what he did on Thursday afternoon in Cape Town had anything to do with the word ‘patience’.
The bat flew in one direction, the ball in another. On instances, the batsman went across the wicket and played a ball going a foot outside the off-stump to the on-side. He swirled, fell, hopped and twisted himself in knots.
Physics had little to do with Pant’s batting, but he did not give his wicket away.
Ahead of this Test, Kohli had talked about the lesson he had learnt from MS Dhoni – not to repeat the same mistakes for seven to eight months. On Day Three though, the skipper himself repeated that error of going after the ball outside the off-stump – just the kind that’s been luring him to edge – and fell again.
The Kohli-Pant stand, had it continued through the session, would’ve ensured a target of 250-plus and this Test would’ve started looking different already. It’s looking slightly tilted in favour of South Africa, partly due to some very cautious batting from Elgar, some very flamboyant batting from Petersen, and largely a great deal of luck assisting them.
The ball either kept missing the edge of Elgar’s bat or didn’t carry enough, making the Indian bowlers sweat. Kohli brought in Ashwin and the off-spinner managed a good deal of turn – even by his standards – but nothing went though. The closest he came to picking a wicket was when Petersen padded it and the ball looked like hitting the stumps. But such was India’s day that the review showed the ball bouncing higher than what they thought.
The first session on Friday will decide the course of this Test match, one that continues to hang in the balance at the moment.
In Pics: South Africa eye victory despite Pant century for India in third Test
<p>Rishabh Pant hit a thrilling century for India and followed up with a crucial catch to break South Africa’s progress towards chasing down a victory target of 212 on the third day of the third Test at Newlands on Thursday. (BCCI Photo)</p>